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Not all whites are farmers: privilege, the politics of representation, and the urban–rural divide in Zimbabwe

  • Rory Pilossof and Jacob Boersema

Whiteness has always been visible and marked in Africa. This is what makes whiteness in Africa distinct from whiteness in the West. This article explores the question of how the visibility of whiteness matters for its politics by focusing on the case of Zimbabwe. Much of the work on whiteness in this country, concentrating solely on the white farming community, presents the white population as a homogeneous group. This article uses the urban–rural divide to challenge such a portrayal and to explore the relationship in Zimbabwe between the politics of representation and the politics of whiteness in the postcolonial era. Based on four years of ethnographic research, it investigates urban and rural whiteness together because they are interrelated. We make two specific observations: first, that urban privilege has remained invisible because white Zimbabweans and white privilege are imagined to be connected to the land and to being a farmer. Urban whites have perpetuated this stereotype, which helped mask their own privileged lives. Second, we demonstrate that the defence of white privilege happens through means other than simple denial. Our interview data shows that, despite urban whites’ acknowledgement and understanding of white privilege, they still defend and try to legitimize it. Finally, we conclude that raising awareness and demanding acknowledgement of white privilege might be a necessary but insufficient condition to end it.

La blanchité a toujours été visible et marquée en Afrique. C'est ce qui distingue la blanchité en Afrique de la blanchité en Occident. Cet article explore la question de savoir en quoi la visibilité de la blanchité importe pour sa politique en se concentrant sur le cas du Zimbabwe. L'essentiel de la recherche sur la blanchité dans ce pays, exclusivement axée sur le paysannat blanc, présente la population blanche comme un groupe homogène. Cet article utilise le clivage urbain–rural pour remettre en cause cette description et explorer la relation, au Zimbabwe, entre la politique de la représentation et la politique de la blanchité au cours de la période postcoloniale. Basé sur quatre années de recherche ethnographique, il examine la blanchité urbaine et la blanchité rurale ensemble parce qu'elles sont liées. Les auteurs font deux observations spécifiques : d'abord, que le privilège urbain est resté invisible parce que les Zimbabwéens blancs et le privilège blanc sont imaginés liés à la terre et au fait d’être agriculteur. Les blancs urbains ont perpétué ce stéréotype qui a contribué à masquer leur existence privilégiée. Ensuite, les auteurs démontrent que la défense du privilège blanc se fait par des moyens autres que le simple déni. Les données d'entretiens montrent qu'en dépit de leur reconnaissance et de leur compréhension du privilège blanc, les blancs urbains continuent de le défendre et de tenter de le légitimer. Enfin, les auteurs concluent que la sensibilisation et la demande de reconnaissance du privilège blanc peuvent être une condition nécessaire mais insuffisante pour y mettre fin.

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  • ISSN: 0001-9720
  • EISSN: 1750-0184
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